Michael Conroy/Associated Press
The Storyline: Can the new acquisitions cement themselves as starters at outside linebacker?
The Contenders: Geno Hayes, LaRoy Reynolds, Telvin Smith, Dekoda Watson
The Prediction: Dekoda Watson (“Otto” linebacker) and Telvin Smith (“Will” linebacker) win starting roles.
OK, this is where things get complicated. Assessing defensive players and position battles is vastly more difficult than that of offensive skill positions. A defensive player’s impact cannot always be quantified by stats; therefore, it’s important to evaluate a player’s entire body of work.
When it comes to rookies and new acquisitions, it's difficult to project how they’ll do in a new defense because they have limited experience—all you can do is analyze the player in the past and make the best possible guess at how he'll perform in a new environment.
The Jaguars badly need an injection of talent at the outside linebacker position. In 2013 Geno Hayes graded as the 28th overall outside linebacker, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) with an abysmal minus-5.4 rating. Moreover, the Jaguars lost their best outside linebacker when Russell Allen decided to retire.
In an effort to improve a suddenly dismal unit, the Jaguars brought in veteran linebacker Dekoda Watson (age 26) and drafted Florida State star Telvin Smith (23).
Watson and Smith are both athletic linebackers with good instincts. They project to be playmakers at their positions and compete with passion. They’ll bring a swagger to this defense similar to that of the Seattle Seahawks.
The wild card here is LaRoy Reynolds, who will reportedly get the first shot at playing the Otto position, per Alfie Crow of Big Cat Country. Reynolds is strong and can set the edge and could emerge as a starting candidate.
Overall, I believe that Reynolds would be best as depth at middle linebacker. Watson and Smith will bring an attitude to the defense and can make plays against both the run and pass. Additionally, they are young, which allows them the time to develop and establish themselves as future leaders for a growing team.